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Western Press Review: Dissecting Israeli Government's Fall

  • Joel Blocker
  • Anthony Georgieff

Prague 23 December 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Following Monday's decision by the parliament in Israel to hold early general elections, Western press commentary today is largely concerned with Israeli politics. Most papers regard favorably the fall of Benjamin Netanyahu's Right-wing government and most, too, have few kind words for the outgoing prime minister.

GUARDIAN: Netanyahu government may not be with us much longer

Britain's Guardian daily says that "the vote for an early election in Israel means that Benjamin Netanyahu's government, inept, accident-prone and, above all, incapable of dealing effectively and honestly with the Palestinians, may not be with us for much longer... But," the paper adds, "the serious structural flaws in the Israeli political system could easily lead to an unsatisfactory... outcome."

In an editorial, the paper writes: "Polls show a majority of Israelis are for peace, that they do not expect it to produce, immediately, perfect security, and that they know it must include the establishment of a Palestinian state. Yet getting this message through the grinding cogs of Israeli politics...has proved dismally difficult."

The Guardian adds: "The Right cannot govern in Israel without incorporating...a range of extremists, eccentrics and religious elements....The Labor Party also, if to a lesser extent, has to bring in religious and other disparate elements if it is to rule."

Two German newspapers comment briefly on Israel.

GENERAL-ANZEIGER: Netanyahu has only himself to blame

For the General-Anzeiger, published in Bonn, Prime Minister "Netanyahu has only himself to blame." The paper writes in its editorial: "Netanyahu tripped over his own legs. His government lost its balance after all the tricks and schemes it concocted. Now the Israelis have a new chance. The old government was unable to act. For those hoping for a resuscitation of the peace process, the early elections are good news."

FRANKFURTER NEUE PRESSE: Netanyahu loyal to his voters

The Frankfurter Neue Presse has a different view of Netanyahu. The paper says in its editorial: "Netanyahu remained loyal to his voters. A Palestinian state that is recognized by Israel will not take shape in the foreseeable future. To have avoided this perceived great danger is quite a success for Netanyahu."

AKTUELT: Peace process set back for months

In Denmark, the daily Aktuelt writes today: "A [protracted] election campaign in Israel will set back for months the peace process between the Israelis and the Palestinians." It adds: "The outgoing Israeli government was side-tracked. Its last demands from the Palestinians, in keeping with October's Wye River land-for-peace agreement, were not supported by a majority of the Knesset [parliament]."

Aktuelt's editorial continues: "The Palestinians have also rejected these demands, saying they fear Netanyahu may use the elections to steer Israel clear of its [Wye] obligations. So far, only the first phase of the Wye accords has been implemented [and] it is highly unlikely there will be any progress in the Middle East peace process until after late April, when the Israeli elections will probably take place."

AFTENPOSTEN: Israeli election outcome upredictable

Norway's Aftenposten writes: "It is totally unpredictable whom the Israelis will vote for to take Benjamin Netanyahu's place. He has tried the impossible: to keep the far-Right religious parties in check and at the same time not to alienate moderates in the Labor Party opposition. He failed," says the paper, adding that with Netanyahu's fall, "the U.S.-brokered agreements with the Palestinians have also collapsed."

Aftenposten adds: "But Netanyahu has a trump card [in the elections]. He may very well out-maneuver his opponents precisely because there are so many of them and they are so divergent. A lot will depend on how the Palestinians behave in the run-up to the elections....As of today," the paper adds, "all options are wide open."

LE MONDE : Government's fall means Israelies can change policy

The French daily Le Monde, in an editorial entitled "Mr. Netanyahu's Faults" , is quite pleased his government has fallen. The paper writes: "Israelis now have an opportunity to change policy. They can, if they so decide, put back in the opposition a man who has done more harm to his country's image than the Lebanese war of 1982 or the seven years of Palestinian Intifada."

The editorial goes on: "It's the extravagant way he managed the conflict with the Palestinians that brought Mr. Netanyahu down. At the Wye Plantation [negotiations two months ago], his systematic strategy of sabotaging the Oslo peace accords fell because of the determination --and exasperation-- of [U.S. President] Bill Clinton."

The paper also says: "Mr. Netanyahu...will certainly seek during the election campaign to show he remains the best guarantee that there will be no Palestinian state in the Occupied Territories. Weakened and discredited, he is today seen as a loser in all the polls. But he no doubt has not had his last word...and can count on increased tension in the next few months to play on Israeli fears and win again."

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE : Israel divided between assurance and self-doubt

Writing in today's International Herald Tribune, columnist Flora Lewis says that "the prospects are for a series of crises --in the reluctant negotiations [with the Palestinians], in Israeli politics, in American politics, each with its separate context but effecting the atmosphere of the others."

She adds: "The precept of refusing to cede control of land, refusing to believe that independent Palestinians will ever assure peace, is argued in Israel against acceptance that the Jewish state will always have to deal with Palestinians and had best find the way of mutual benefit."

Lewis goes on: "The precept of absolute guarantee of security first, against acceptance that peace is the best and most rewarding guarantee, is the issue of Israeli politics. The country is divided on many levels and has entered its second half-century in a strange mood of arrogant assurance and deep doubt about its identity and purpose."

FINANCIAL TIMES: Government's fall plunges Israel into political turmoil

In a news analysis for Britain's Financial Times, Judy Dempsey says that the fall of "Netanyahu's Right-wing coalition has plunged Israel into political turmoil and frozen the Middle-Eastern peace process....Until Israel's internal politics settles down," she adds, "relations with the Palestinians will be unpredictable and the peace process will go nowhere."

Dempsey continues: "Of the main parties, Mr. Netanyahu's looks in the worst state. Likud is imploding....Ehud Barak, Labor party leader, thinks differently [than Likud]. He has put [Israel's] internal divisions high on his election campaign agenda.... In Monday night's Knesset debate, he called for 'one Israel,' accusing Mr. Netanyahu of pandering to extremists."

She concludes: "Israel's voting system has always been a problem because it makes it hard for anyone to get a clear majority....After Mr. Netanyahu's fall, it will require a miracle for any party to form a stable government that can both speed up the peace process and prevent Israel from sliding toward greater [internal] conflict...."